Reports that South Korea, in the wake of North Korea’s dramatic 3 September test of a massive thermonuclear bomb, has approved plans to establish a special forces unit to assassinate Kim Jong-un appear to signal a sharp change of direction in the foreign policy of South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in.
Why would a progressive politician elected in May on a platform of engagement with the North and who, just a few months ago in Berlin in July, talked confidently of establishing a “permanent peace regime” on the peninsula, of avoiding the “collapse” of North Korea and “easing its security and economic concerns”, suddenly shift gears and appear to embrace aggressive regime change?
Seoul’s leaders are terrified by the apparent failure of military deterrence, and the inability of Donald Trump, through his confident “fire and fury” rhetoric, to stop Pyongyang from pressing ahead rapidly with its aggressive military modernization campaign.
More missile tests are a certainty and in the last day there have been reports of new activity at the North’s nuclear testing facility at Punggye-ri that suggest a seventh nuclear test may be being prepared.
Only by scaring Kim Jong-un into believing his life may be in imminent danger can Seoul hope to offset this risk by persuading the North to pause its tests and engage in constructive dialogue. But how realistic is such a threat?